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Reaching a summit in Phoenix, Arizona can be both fun and fulfilling; the valley has a variety of hikes for many different skill levels, the views are beautiful, and there is a wonderfully friendly hiker culture in the area that makes running into people on trails incredibly enjoyable!
Along with these positive aspects of taking on a Phoenix trailhead, there are also challenges and concerns. See the tips below to ensure that your hiking experience in the Valley of the Sun is the best it can be!
1. Familiarize yourself with the hike.
Each trail in Phoenix is unique, so don’t assume to know the required skill level needed to complete it. Prior to venturing out, do a bit of research on the trail you’d like to hike. You can learn a lot from the internet (example, click here), as well as other people who have done the hike before. For instance, what’s the elevation gain? How long does it take? Is there often wildlife present on the trail? Etc. Getting familiar with the task at hand will help you prepare more effectively, allowing you to use the remaining nine tips to their full potential!
2. Stay hydrated.
This is the classic recommendation when doing any kind of outdoor recreation in Phoenix because, well, it’s hot. Yes, it’s a dry heat, but don’t let that fool you into complacency. If you’re planning on hiking in the area, you should also be planning your water intake.
I’m a person who, admittedly, doesn’t drink as much water as I should throughout the day. (There are several reasons for this and it’s a work in progress.) BUT the day and hours before a hike, I always make a point to opt only for water when I’m thirsty, and I don’t ignore the urge to drink when I’m busy with something else. Your body can’t store a lot of water, so excessive pre-hydrating efforts probably won’t help much, but you still shouldn’t wait until you’re on the trail to be sipping some H20. If you start your hike already underhydrated, you’re asking for a bad time.
Similarly, if you do not bring enough water with you, you’re setting yourself up for failure. From personal experience, there is nothing worse than running out of water halfway through a hike. It’s important to pack light when possible, but unless you’re incredibly self aware when it comes to your body (which I am not…), you should bring more water than you think you need, just to be safe. Better to have extra afterwards than to run out and realize you need more.
3. Beware the dangers of heatstroke.
Oftentimes, people think that having water with them will be enough to keep themselves in good shape while they’re hiking. However, dehydration is only one of several heat-related conditions. Another is heatstroke, which is frequently forgotten in lieu of dehydration, and can be potentially fatal.
Heatstroke occurs when a person’s body gets overheated, which can be caused by exposure to high temperature environments or physical exertion. Either cause can be accelerated due to dehydration, alcohol consumption, and/or excess clothing. Heatstroke results in a variety of symptoms, such as headache, nausea, and shallow breathing, but the killer is altered mental state. People experiencing heatstroke often become agitated and confused, and in their delirium are unable to effectively help themselves by seeking shade, water, or assistance. You can read more about heatstroke here.
Being educated on the causes and symptoms of heatstroke will help you be more aware if you or someone else on a trail needs medical attention (and if anyone suspects someone is experiencing heatstroke, he/she absolutely does need medical attention). Hopefully that won’t be necessary! Use the other tips on this page as preventative measures.
4. Protect yourself from the sun.
Honestly, the heat alone is often bearable. It’s the bright and unrelenting sun beating down on you that makes Phoenix feel like Hell. Luckily, there are some measures you can take to protect yourself from that hostile element if you plan ahead.
- Hike early. Like as early as possible. I’m not a morning person by any means, but I still get my butt out of bed at 4:30a if I have a long hike ahead of me. Plan what time you should start your hike based on how long it will take to finish, keeping in mind that Phoenix can be pretty toasty as early at 9:00 in the morning. Tackling a trail early gives you the benefits of cooler temperatures and more shadowed areas to walk in before the sun gets high in the sky.
- Wear appropriate clothing. What’s appropriate depends on your preferences, but steer clear of restricting and/or stuffy clothes. While hiking, you want to be able to move freely in breathable fabrics that will help you stay cool.
- Bring a hat and shades. Even if you’re not sure you’ll wear them, bring them anyway. There’s nothing worse than hiking straight towards the rising sun with nothing to cover your face and eyes. Better safe than sorry!
- Wear sunscreen. Even if you don’t think you’ll be in the sun for very long, you’ll get a sunburn in Phoenix. Even if you don’t think the sun will be up before you finish your hike, you’ll get a sunburn in Phoenix. Even if you’re walking across the street to check the mail, you’re going to get a sunburn in Phoenix. Wear sunscreen, and don’t forget your ears.
5. Wear appropriate shoes.
Unfortunately, this is something that I see a lot of people neglecting to do. I think that many people feel as though if they have tennis shoes — any type of tennis shoe — they’ll be prepared for hiking. After all, outdoor activities require nothing much more than tennis shoes, right? I wish this were true (we could all save a buck!), but it’s just not. Phoenix hikes are particularly rocky, and many of them are awfully steep and/or long.
So let’s start with the basics! Your shoes should have good support, whether your hikes are long or short. You’ll feel the negative effects more clearly during long hikes if you’re wearing inappropriate shoes, whether those effects are felt in your feet, your knees, or your back! Good shoes are an investment in protecting your body so you can hike another day!
More specifically, if you’ll be doing a lot of hiking in the desert, you need to take the terrain into consideration. I’ve known many people who have nice athletic shoes with decent support, but they just don’t cut it. That’s because their shoes are designed for short distance walking and/or running on easy ground (sidewalks, streets, treadmills, etc.). These types of shoes are great for what they’re designed for, but not much else. Trail running shoes are made specifically to give proper grip and support for the wearers to stay stable on uneven surfaces.
It may take some extra effort to find the right pair of trail running shoes for you, but if you’re planning on hiking frequently (in Phoenix or anywhere else), that effort is worth it. I’m able to run down mountainsides with confidence knowing my shoes aren’t going to lose their grip on the rocks as I go.
If you’re interested in finding your own pair of trail running shoes, you can start here or on the sidebar! I hike in Asics Gel Scrams (the original line). I bought my pair several years ago (think 5+) and they’ve served me well. The first generation that I wear isn’t sold anymore (too old — hah!), but you can buy the Gel Scram 2 and Gel Scram 3 models. I hike moderately frequently, always with these shoes. Bonus: they’re very stylish!
6. Bring your phone.
The reason for this is twofold. First, you don’t want to be caught in an emergency situation without your phone. Accidents happen and hikers should be prepared to call for assistance if necessary. Second, it would be a shame to reach a summit and not be able to capture that amazing view. By all means, bask in the sun and enjoy the moment tech-free, but isn’t it always nice to have the option to take a photo just in case?
7. Never hike alone.
For your safety, you should always hike with a buddy or in a group. Again, accidents happen! People injure themselves while hiking; they have bad encounters with wildlife on a trail; a storm comes in and makes the area hazardous; and a number of other potential scenarios.
Ideally, having two or more capable and alert hikers will lessen the chances of such accidents occurring. God forbid, if something happens anyway, it would benefit anyone to have another individual present who hasn’t been injured, can go get help, do whatever need be.
If hiking with other people is truly not an option, or if you’re dead set on conquering a trail alone, make sure to always inform someone ahead of time about your intentions. Your contact should be aware of what trail you’ll be hiking, when you’ll be going, and when you should be back. That way, if you don’t return or get a hold of them within a reasonable timeframe, measures can be taken as soon as possible to make sure you’re alive and well.
8. Be on the lookout for wildlife.
Part of the appeal of hiking in Arizona is being able to enter rugged and untamed territory so close to the city. However, don’t let the trails’ proximity to the big city fool you — the mountain preserves are very large expanses of true desert. The result is that wildlife is still very present in those areas. For a person who’s prepared, encountering wildlife from a distance can be exciting and result in great stories and/or pictures. For those who aren’t, it can end in disaster. Rattlesnake bites and mountain lion fights are not the way most would choose to remember their hikes. Don’t put yourself in a position that requires you to.
The best way to avoid a negative situation with wildlife is to stay on the marked trail! These areas are often very heavily trafficked, which makes it less likely than an animal would choose to hang out there for long, if at all. Beyond that guideline, it is simply imperative that hikers remain aware of their surroundings. It is for this reason that I never recommend wearing headphones or using your phone while hiking (save your photos ops for periods of rest).
A final word: Wildlife lookouts should include both plants and animals when you’re hiking — you don’t want to step on a scorpion any more than you want to step on a cactus!
9. Refuel properly.
If you’re hiking a long trail, you’ll probably get hungry at some point! The summit is a great place to take in the view and get some rest before moving on to the second half of the hike — going back down! Rest should include refueling on water and grabbing a bite to eat if you’re hungry.
Water is always best before and during any type of workout, so that’s what I bring on my hikes, saving drinks with electrolytes in them for afterwards. I also bring a small snack to give me a boost before tackling the hike down. This could be a granola bar, a banana, etc. Only you know your body and how much fuel it needs, but I try to keep it light to avoid an upset stomach or cramps before reaching the bottom.
After you’ve recharged both physically spiritually (don’t forget to take in that view), you’ll be ready to head down!
10. Have a good time!
After all this, it might seem like hiking in Phoenix takes a lot of work. Don’t be discouraged! Many of these things start to come naturally after time. Don’t forget the reason you want to hike in the first place — it’s fun! Hiking brings people closer together, and reunites them with nature in a way that is often rejuvenating. The tips listed above are recommended so your hike is as enjoyable as can be. So what are you waiting for? Get outside!
If you’d like to share your experiences hiking in Phoenix, or have any tips you feel fellow hikers should know about, feel free to comment below!
Safety disclaimer: When hiking, always be aware of the wildlife that could be present on a trail, and take the necessary precautions. Just because I haven’t seen it yet doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that you won’t see it! Additionally, make sure to follow all safety protocols as outlined by the recreation departments in charge of each site you choose to visit. Be safe and prepared.
Medical disclaimer: As always, consult a physician before you and/or your child begin an exercise regimen or engage in rigorous outdoor activity. The general information above is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. If you experience any problems or have concerns when engaging in physical activity, stop and contact a doctor before proceeding with additional workouts.